Monday, December 7, 2009

Feedback Loop

Current Reading: Myths of the North American Indians, by Lewis Spence

Inspirational Quote: "Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment." -- Jim Horning

How did I react to the query critique I received?

Short version: facepalm.

Visual version:

Verbose version: Um... I knew all that. I did. I really did.

I've read agent blogs like Query Shark and Evil Editor and Miss Snark and Nathan Bransford. I know what makes a good query.

But, as Morpheus said, "There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path," and in this case, I busted my GPS and walked off into the wilderness. I had thought I was providing sufficient detail. I thought I was providing concrete incidents from the work. I thought I was providing a coherent, succinct summation of the plot. Yet I was uneasy. It just didn't seem right to me, and I couldn't see why. After reading through the Rejectionist's comments, I could see why.

I believe I've said this before, but the best criticism is the stuff that echoes what a little voice in the back of your mind has been trying to tell you.

Some might find her tone insufficiently gentle. I disagree. It is difficult to make a point with sufficient force to penetrate a writer's natural defenses while not arousing the whole to general warfare. For me, her intended audience, the tone was perfect - enough humor to keep it light, but sufficient acid to etch the important points into my consciousness. She did not spare my feelings (nor did I ask them to be spared). She told me what I needed to hear, and for that I'm grateful.

So: my reaction? "Jeeze. I can't believe I wasted a good opportunity by sending in this piece of crap." Then I got over myself and reread the agent blog posts about queries and googled "query letter" and thought about things a long time. And then I started from scratch and wrote a couple dozen MORE versions of my query. What resulted is the query that I really wish I'd sent instead of this one, because it contains less suck, and I really feel it needs only a tiny nudge, a change of perspective, an insight, that could move it to suck-free.

This is a delusion, of course. It too is sucktastic, and further feedback might help me turn it into something merely lame, but at some point I have to start listening to that voice at the back of my head, grow up and start developing my own ability to recognize quality. To that end, I suspect I have more reading and writing to do before this thing ceases to be loserific.

And thus, like Edison, we approach success by beating failure to death.


essygie said...

Hey - I know it takes guts to go public on criticism you've received (me, I just stay under the duvet and whimper a while until I feel better) - but I want to say thank you for posting it - the critique was extremely helpful to read (plus, you know, nice to know I'm not the only one out there getting this wrong!) Good luck with the new and improved version of the query :-)

Ulysses said...

Thanks, essygie. I'm happy you found it useful.

Susan Quinn said...

Ulysses - far too hard on yourself, my friend! I'm going to repeat my request, in case you didn't see it on the previous post, for a peek at your much-less-sucktastic query now. But I also appreciate you sharing your thoughts/reactions to the critique.

This stuff is hard work. You rock for keeping at it. You rock even more for sharing and inspiring others.

AND the story sounds cool! Best of luck to you with your writing!

Ulysses said...

Many thanks, Susan.

Have you ever noticed that the only way you can keep your feet on the ground, your head in the clouds, reaching for the stars with your nose to the grindstone and your shoulder to the wheel is to become some kind of steampunk contortionist?

Susan Quinn said...

Hmm . . . sounds like fun . . .

Ulysses said...

Only if you're single and under 40. Otherwise, it's time for a trip to the chiropractor.

slcard said...

"Only if you're single and under 40. Otherwise, it's time for a trip to the chiropractor."

Clearly you have never tried yoga.

Ulysses said...

Actually, I have.
I like mine with fruit. I don't like plain or vanilla yoga.

...yeah, I know, but I never promised the humor here would be high quality.

I did yoga for a little while. It was offered by the fitness center in the building where I work (Sun salutes, downward dogs, proud warrior pose, etc...). But then the instructor took a job with decent pay and went elsewhere.

Given the choice, I'd rather take Tai Chi. No only is it good exercise, but it teaches you to defend yourself if you are ever attacked... by... very... slow... people.

Susan Quinn said...

I think I would rather write about Yoga. Or Tai Chi. Or steampunk contortionists, actually.

Ulysses said...

I cannot imagine a book more likely to make the NYT bestsellers list. "Classical Newtonian Body Shaping for the Victorian Age."

Must... buy... this... book...